Jay-Z Agrees That Kanye West Is One Of The 'Hottest MCs'; Nas Says Barack Obama Can Put U.S. On The 'High Road': Mixtape Monday

Plus: Shawty Lo to take his rivalry with T.I. to Birthday Bash stage; Plies thrilled with Janet Jackson remix.

Artist: Maino

Representing: Brooklyn

Mixtape: The Last Real N---a Alive

411: Jimmy Spicer definitely wasn't the best rapper in the world. You haven't heard of him, right? OK. He wasn't even good. But his "Money (Dollar Bill Y'All)" was influential. The repetition of "dollar, dollar bill, y'all" had to inspire the same words on the hook to Wu-Tang's "C.R.E.A.M." Also, in the '90s, Mary J. Blige took her classic "Be Happy" to another level by speeding up Spicer's instrumental and remixing her hit.

Now, in 2008, Brooklyn's Maino has used the same sample for his "Hi Hater," a record that embraces jealousy and uses the negative energy for positive fuel.

"It was the Mary beat," he said driving through downtown Brooklyn past the location where the famous Albee Square Mall used to be (shout-out to Biz Markie!). "I figured [the beat] was older. I wasn't really sure. It was the Mary beat, to the 'Be Happy' remix. I always wanted to rap to it. I loved that. Then I researched the beat and it was 'dollar, dollar bill, y'all.' That's why I started my song with 'Dollar bill, y'all/ Lot of bills, y'all/ New year, trying to touch me a mil, y'all.'

"A lot of people ask me, 'How did you come up with that [hook]?' " he continued. "That's what I heard. I was riding around in the car listening to the beat. That's what I heard: 'Hi, hater!' I saw it. We coming through, and the haters is over, and we roll down the window — 'Hi, hater!' — waving at them."

Two Sundays ago, Maino tore down the Hot 97 Summer Jam by coming onstage with Alicia Keys as a surprise guest. The tens of thousands in the audience embraced his performance. Maino credits Swizz Beatz for hooking him up with A. Keys. His life is so much different than it was when he was serving out an almost 10-year prison sentence not too long ago.

"I know what it feels to wake up and the first thing you see is them bars," said Maino, who started his bid when he was just 16 years old. "One thing about being in prison I ain't lose: When I wake up now, the first thing I see is those bars. You feel hopeless. You at your lowest low. You not able to take care of your own self. You're depending on people in the outside world to check in on you. ... It's very depressing. You try to find hope in that by reading. Music for me helped me get through that. We were able to get mixtapes and things like that."

Maino's rise in the music game has been a process. He had one deal with Universal Records that fell through, and he's since signed to Atlantic. While everybody in the streets knows him through his mixtapes, cameos with good friend Lil' Kim and appearances on street DVDs, "Hi Hater" is actually the first real single he's ever had. His next album is slated for September 30 with production from Cool & Dre and GQ Beats, among others.

His latest mixtape, The Last Real N---a Alive, was just released with DJ Superstar Jay.

"I think I got better as a song maker, and I wanted people to see that," he said of his street CD. "Instead of trying to display a bunch of frivolous lyrics — 'my rhymes do this, my rhymes do that' — I wanted to give them real talk. You hear a lot of good records — a lot of records that could have made the album. I'm just trying to give them what's in store."

Joints To Check For

» "The Streets Been Good to Me." "I'm just trying to show people the edge of me," Maino explained. "The streets been good to me. They raised me as a person, as a man. The streets gave birth to the way I think before I went to prison and while I was in prison. It was the streets I came back to."

» "Dey Know" remix by Shawty Lo, also featuring Lil' Kim and Busta Rhymes. " 'Maino, I keep it gangsta. The side of my face been cut with a razor,' " Maino rapped as a preview. "I learned when a person underestimates you, they really at the disadvantage. You're at the advantage. They letting their guards down. That's how people get hurt, literally! I love when a person underestimates me. He's taking away from himself. I did that one time and got cut in my face. I underestimated the dude and overestimated myself: 'He ain't gonna do sh--.' It was in jail, Comstock [New York]. Never could I overestimate myself again and underestimate the next man. I apply the same thing to music. You think I ain't got it? You think I ain't capable? You don't think I know how to play chess? First move, check! Do something."

» "Real Talk." "I'm the last real n---a in the game. That speaks for itself," Maino said. "Real n---as are outnumbered 99 to one. I don't think I'm the sole real n---a on Earth. But I'm speaking for all the real n---as that's outnumbered. Where they at? In this rap game, there's not too many that's stand-up. There's a couple. It ain't too many. It's a few. I'm just making my mark, man. I'm just trying to tell the people. Like I said, you need a G in office. Who else is gonna represent you?"

Don't Sleep: Other Notable Selections This Week

» D12 - Return of the Dozen

» DJ Bobby Black - Crack Addiction

» DJ Dolla Sign - Terminator: The Curtis Jackson Chronicles

» J. Period and G. Brown - March 9 V.2

» Trae tha Truth - Tha Diary of Tha Truth

'Hood's Heavy Rotation: Bubbling Below The Radar

» G-Unit - "Straight Outta Southside"

» N.E.R.D. - "Time For Some Action"

» Plies (featuring Keyshia Cole and J. Holiday) - "#1 Fan"

» Sean Garrett (featuring Pharrell Williams) - "Patron"

Celebrity Faves

Big brother is a proud brotha. The MTV News Hip-Hop Brain Trust recently voted Kanye West as the Hottest MC in the Game (the public is still up in arms over the top 10!), and Jay-Z agrees that 'Ye's development has been major.

"He's a complete package now," Hov said. "He's working on his craft as an MC. In the beginning, his flow wasn't as tight. It was more stretched out. He wouldn't hit everything all the time like the one, two. His flow was lacking, in my opinion. And this last album, everything came together. The songs were great, the hooks were incredible, and the lyrics — he really takes a lot of pride in what he writes. That happiness is seeing his evolution from the first album to now. It's like, 'Wow!' "

The Streets Is Talking: News & Notes From The Underground

You hear about it all the time: African-Americans who have "made it" but get reminders that racism in this country still exits, no matter how big your celebrity is or how much money you have. But how far up the food chain does racism go? Will it affect Illinois Senator Barack Obama if he becomes president?

"I get reminders," Nas told us of coming into contact with bigotry. "I see a lot of people get reminders all the time. But the president of the United States? I don't know. He can expect that everything that can happen, will happen. But he's a lot more powerful than Nasir Jones in a lot of ways. I think he'll be all right. People like me, we're gonna deal with [racism]. There's a lot of ignorance in the world. Look at the human family. We've been able to design iPods and so-called go the Moon. Yet, we can't get over racial difference and colors of skin. That's gotta go.

"If Barack becomes the president, it doesn't matter who looks at him as a n---er at that point," Nas continued. "Everybody gotta go through scrutiny, criticism by crazy people. They will criticize your child. They talked about the Clintons' daughter, and they talked about this one and that one. You gotta be able to take the high road on everybody. I think Obama is perfect for taking the high road. He's prepared. He's a black man. Him taking the high road is him taking the country on a high road. I think it's gonna benefit everybody in America with that guy in office. Let's hope it happens. Let's hope it's no funny business with that guy in office. Let's hope for the best."

After years of disinterest, the Big Apple native credits Obama's campaign for raising his awareness and excitement in politics again.

"It got me interested," Nas admitted. "I think in about 10 more years from today, you're gonna have more politicians who grew up listening to Illmatic that are ... MCs! That are rappers. You're gonna start seeing more rappers evolve into politicians. If we have a change this year and it's a positive thing, we trusting the system now. We believe in it more. We see something positive coming out of it that makes us want to get involved more. Five or 10 years from now, you might see somebody like me trust it more. Who knows? I won't say for sure."

Although he's anticipating a big change in the country should Obama take the Oval Office, Nas hasn't committed to casting a vote.

"I don't know what I'm doing as far as the vote this year," he admitted. "I'm excited about it, I just don't know what I'm doing. I'm still trying to figure out the next few months of my own life. My own politics. I'm the president of Nas World. That's a busy job already. To get out and vote? I gotta see."

The new song "Black President" appears on Nas' new The N---er Mixtape with DJ Green Lantern, as well as his yet-untitled July LP. ...

Shawty Lo doesn't want to fight T.I. He doesn't even want to battle him song for song with disses. The self-proclaimed "King of Bankhead" is ready to see his rivalry with the King of the South go up one notch, though. L.O. says he and Tip can duke it out on Saturday with their sets.

Both rappers are on the bill for the Atlanta radio station Hot 107.9's 13th annual Birthday Bash concert. The roster also features the Game, Lil Boosie, Webbie, DJ Khaled, Young Jeezy, Plies and Rocko.

"We gonna give the people what they want," Lo said late last week about what he and Tip will bring to the concert in their separate sets. "It's gonna be either he wins or I win. It ain't no beef or nothing. He said he's gonna have the best show. I say I'm gonna have the best show."

So what's at stake? "Bragging rights," Lo said. It's just that simple.

"He put the challenge out there. I'm going out there to do my show," Lo explained. "He said the Birthday Bash is his. It probably was. But now Shawty L.O. is in town."

He's in town for the show, at least. Shawty is still in demand out of town for various spot dates. He said his record label would love for him to put out the follow-up to his debut, Units in the City. The Georgia bulldog is still collecting beats from people like Polow Da Don, Jazze Pha and Soulja Boy but says he needs to finally buy an iPod so he can listen to and write tracks on the road. In addition to his next solo LP, there might be a group album on the horizon. Not with D4L, but with his favorite collaborator: Gucci Mane.

"Gucci, we were grinding together before it got to this point," he explained. "We were grinding hard. Right now, we're thinking about putting an album together. It's more than us two. [The record company was] saying me and Gucci, Lil Boosie and Gorilla Zoe. It would be crazy. We're gonna take it one day at a time and see how it goes. I believe we could put it together. We all get along very good. It's about making it make sense and making it happen." ...

Usually, rappers jack a singer's song and make an unofficial remix. Unless the singer is R. Kelly, we don't typically see it the other way around — especially not with a star as big as Janet Jackson.

"It was weird, bruh," Plies said about finding out that Janet took it upon herself to remix his "Bust It Baby 2" by adding her vocals. "I was in Milwaukee. One of the [program directors] said, 'I love the "Bust It Baby" remix. The one y'all did with Janet Jackson.' I didn't even know she did the record. Then I got a call from one of my peoples in Atlanta. They said Jermaine [Dupri] had just dropped the record off to the station. For the first 15, 20 minutes, I really thought the person who was telling me this was just talking.

"But to see a person of her caliber embrace my craft enough to feel that she wanted to be a part of it, that made me not only appreciate it, but made me feel I was going in the right direction," he continued.

Plies' Definition of Real comes out this week. Other than Ne-Yo, he has guest appearances from Jamie Foxx, J. Holiday, Keyshia Cole and the "radio killer" himself, The-Dream. No other rappers. And get this: He's already almost done with his third LP. It's called The Realest and comes out December 16. ...

We gotta shout out one of the new voices everyone will be hearing about in the next couple of years: D.C.-area rapper Wale. Some folks might already know dude from his tireless mixtape work repping the DMV (D.C., Maryland, Virginia); his musical cameo on "Entourage" last season; and various tracks that have come out in the past few months, including "Nike Boots" with Lil Wayne and his guest spot on the Roots' latest album. We've been a fan of his for a while, and now that he's been signed to Interscope, through Mark Ronson's Allido label, he's going to be getting that full national push.

Last week, Wale dropped his latest mixtape, Mixtape About Nothing, kind of a play on "Seinfeld" (and, crazy enough, he actually raps over a go-go version of the "Seinfeld" theme song). Wale is in that lane between being a street dude and being a Kanye West/ Lupe Fiasco type, a guy who grew up in the 'hoodiest of 'hoods but is still savvy enough to have his viral Internet game tight.

Of course, being from D.C., Wale reps go-go music too. "What I learned from go-go music is that I can't hear the greatness in a beat unless the drums are heavy," Wale told Mixtape Monday. "It's hard not to be influenced by go-go growing up here."

On Mixtape About Nothing, Wale raps fast and slow, over new beats and club jams, with a live band and a cappella. Trust us when we say that you won't be disappointed. Check out the full mixtape here. Plus, see a story we did on Wale last year.

For other artists featured in Mixtape Monday, check out Mixtape Mondays Headlines.